Cygnet Swimming Baths
Listen first to what Jean Archer said in 1991
Track 2 (fortunately, the Misbourne is no longer dry because less water is being abstracted)
Listen also to Don Breakspear who swam here as a boy
This article was written By Nicholas Salmon for the Amersham Society newsletter in 1992
The history of the baths goes back to 1886 when Squire Drake gave the town permission to erect a bathing structure and widen the River Misbourne at the Missenden end of the town. This announcement was followed by a hastily arranged Parish meeting convened on 23rd July 1886 to decide on the best means of proceeding. At this meeting Mr. Darlington was commissioned to widen the river and put up hoardings around the baths. It was also agreed to purchase a temporary structure to serve as changing accommodation and this was stored at the end of each season in a loft kindly lent by Mr. W. H. Dumbarton.
The cost of using the Coldmoreham Pool for local residents was 2s 6d (12p) per annum. For this price they had the exclusive use of the pool between 7 and 10 a.m. and 2 and 4 p.m. On the other hand the Misbourne – in the days when it actually flowed – was extremely cold and it was not unusual for bathers to find themselves sharing the pool with aquatic visitors: even the occasional pike! During the early part of the Century a number of improvements were made to the pool. In 1911 £10 was spent on extending its length to 50 yards, while permanent ladies’ and gentlemen’s cubicles were built during the 1920s. To supervise the swimmers a caretaker was also appointed.
The rudeness and high-spirits engendered by the mixture of young people and water is nothing new. From the start the authorities had difficulty controlling the bathers. As early as 1st October 1895 the Parish Council Minute Books reveal that it had been ordered “that the Clerk communicate with the police as to the bad language and conduct of persons using the bathing place”. Quite serious disturbances were caused when large numbers of Chesham youths descended on the pool during hot weather and picked fights with their Amersham counterparts. As late as August 1929 it was reported in the Bucks Examiner that the girls had a “grudge” against the boys as the latter had longer hours: “Consequently when the girls get in they are reluctant to get out and do not hesitate to keep the boys waiting. On the other hand the boys ‘have their own back’ where possible and both boys and girls give the caretaker and his wife no little trouble”.
For some reason the pool was allowed to fall into a dilapidated state during the early 1930s and in January 1935 Mr. A. H. Prince, the assistant county surveyor, was called in to advise on the best means of undertaking repairs. To the surprise of the Bathing Place Committee Mr. Prince suggested that it would be far better to consider the construction of a brand new bath. Following this advice it was unanimously agreed that a swimming pool 120 feet long by 60 feet wide should be built on the unproductive allotments on Dovecot Meadow at a proposed cost of £800. Almost immediately the scheme met with opposition from local ratepayers and in April 1935 it was decided to abandon the idea of a new swimming pool and also to close the old pool permanently due to its insanitary state.
It was partly as a result of this decision that the Amersham Cygnets Swimming Club was formed. This Club had soon recruited over 100 members and the council agreed to allow them the sole use of the Coldmoreham Pool. The Cygnets held their first gala at the Amersham baths in July 1935.
Meanwhile, after reconsidering their decision not to build a new pool, the council asked Mr. Prince to prepare more detailed plans and specifications for a new swimming pool. These plans envisaged a pool 100 feet long by 30 feet wide with 40 dressing boxes and an attendant’s quarters and stores. This revised scheme was scheduled to cost £2,037 and it was decided to conduct a poll of parishioners in October 1936 to gain the necessary approval to continue. The poll was held on Wednesday 21st October at booths at St. Michael’s Hall and the Market Hall and resulted in 166 in favour of the scheme and 575 against.
Although the Cygnet Swimming Club continued to use the pool for a number of years, a plan to recondition it suggested in 1949 was abandoned when it became known that the Amersham Rural District Council intended to include a new baths in the Community Centre proposed for the town.